Minimizing the digital divide

An interview with Professor Arie Scope, chairman of A Computer for Every Child.

Arie Scope (photo credit: Courtesy)
Arie Scope
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Arie Scope is the chairman of A Computer for Every Child, a nonprofit organization that is doing its bit to fight poverty and ignorance. It is donating personal desktop computers to children from underprivileged families. Without its help, it is doubtful whether those children would have had a computer at home. The widening breach between the haves and have-nots is one of the major problems of our society. In a small country such as Israel, when a growing portion of society feels alienated because it is poor, it endangers the stability of the social system. Today, the use of computers is essential. If children do not get used to using a computer, it will affect their ability to get a good education and their prospects in life. And this is where A Computer for Every Child comes in. It was founded 13 years ago by a group of businessmen. "We were asked to help diminish the digital divide as a means of creating a more equalitarian society," Scope says. "After thinking it over, we decided that the best way to go about this was by donating desktop computers to children whose families would not otherwise have found the means to buy one. "These days, knowing how to use a computer is essential. A child who does not know how to use a computer can be compared one who could neither read nor write 30 years ago. And if a child does not have a computer at home it will be very difficult for him or her to learn how to use it. "This is the digital divide - the divide between those who can use a computer and those who cannot; those who are destined to fall behind and those who are given the opportunity to succeed in the modern world." The organization works closely with local governments and social services. They get lists of who should get a computer, which they then double check. "We want to be absolutely sure we are donating computers to those who really need them," Scope says. "When we give a child a computer, we want to make sure that he makes full use of the opportunity. We deliver our computers with a technician who makes the necessary installations at the child's home. We also supply the children with the necessary software and high-speed Internet access, and we also give the recipient, as well as a member of his family - an older brother or parent - a 60-hour course on how to operate a computer. Furthermore they have free technical service for three years, at their home. If something is wrong, a technician is sent immediately to fix it." Since 1995, the organization has donated more than 26,000 computers. Most of the recipients are from large families, and in most cases they teach their siblings how to use the computer. In 2007 the organization operated on a budget of NIS 25 million, enough for 5,000 computers. In 2008 the budget is set to increase. "This year, our budget is NIS 30 million, and we hope to donate 6,000 computers," Scope says. "The funds come in equal amounts from the Prime Minister's Office, the local authority and donors - both private and institutional." The organization could have increased the number of computers if it had agreed to donate second-hand computers, but it doesn't, he says. "If we were to give old, used computers," Scope says, "we would give the impression that we were treating them with disdain, and they would treat the computer accordingly."